Too bad it was July. June would have sounded so much better for all those weddings. You know: June, moon, spoon, that sort of thing.
But I suppose in this case, the only Moon was a Reverend, and romance was irrelevant. In fact, the wedding photo in the paper was to marriage what the cold shower is to sex.
There were 4,148 people being mass- married into 2,074 couples. Each of the blushing brides was dressed in identical Simplicity-patterned white. Each of the grooms was done up in an identical blue suit. They looked altogether like the Madison Square Marriage Class of 1982.
The news story told of how many of the couples, all members of the Unification Church, had known each other only a week. They had been paired off by Sun Myung Moon in a marathon matchmaking session. Some of them didn't even speak the same language. Yet they were wed by the 62-year-old religious leader, who has, he says, "the possibility of becoming the real Messiah."
The moment this Guinness-Book-of- Records picture caught my eye I had the bizarre feeling that if Moon had interrupted this ceremony with a single square-dance call--"Everybody now, change partners a-a-a-and MARRY"-- they would have done so without skipping a beat.
That was what was so striking in the Moon marriages--the atmosphere of impersonality. What most of us regard as a celebration of intimacy was translated into a mass ritual.
There was something automatically impersonal about 2,074 simultaneous marriages. But when the wedding day, the wedding outfits and often the wedding partners were chosen by the leader, it was positively spooky. It wiped out the importance of attachment, affection. One person seemed interchangeable with another.
I say that, you understand, as the granddaughter of a (miserably) matched marriage. I say that in full recognition of the fact that Romantic Marriage is a fairly new notion in human history.
For centuries people with dangerous, frivolous feelings like love didn't necessarily do anything serious about them, like get married. Romeo and Juliet didn't live happily ever after; the moral of their story was to watch out for love.
But today, most of the weddings we've been to, most of the weddings we've been through, celebrate something personal, a feeling that exists between one man and one woman. We share an assumption or an illusion or an insistence that marriage be built on private emotions. We're more tolerant today of loving without marrying than of marrying without loving.
We demand love even in the most stately sort of marriages. Prince Charles, great-nephew of a man hounded out of the palace because he wanted to marry the woman he loved, was hounded for evidence that he loved the woman he was marrying.
I suppose our emphasis on romantic marriage has its own problems. George Bernard Shaw said it with his usual charm: "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part."
The downside of this ideal is divorce. If marriage is legitimated by love alone, then the absence of love makes it seem illegitimate. The weak spot of modern marriage is that it may rest too heavily on fragile individuals, individual emotions, individual choices. We often feel the need for more social supports to shore it up.
But the scene in Madison Square Garden was stranger to our ideals than Elizabeth Taylor's weddings. What we saw there was a bride-and-groom factory, people who appeared to have all the will of wax couples on a cake.
For many of these couples, marriage was not a commitment to another person, not even a personal choice. It was another way to prove they had given up choices, abnegated egos. The partner was less important than the clergyman, the community more important than the couple. It's all quite sad when you think about it. Perhaps the largest wedding in all of human history, 4,148 lives. And yet there was hardly an individual in the room.